In this era of hydrocolloids in the kitchen, Floyd Cardoz has the right training to be a molecular gastronomist: The Bombay-born chef studied biochemistry in graduate school. Yet the Top Chef Masters Season 3 winner is not interested in creating science-geek food. "When most people go to a restaurant, they don't want to feel intimidated by what they're eating," he says.
He put his theory into practice in an unlikely venue, Manhattan's now-shuttered Tabla. There, he made Indian food approachable by combining ingredients that spoke to his heritage with Western ones, like Oaxacan pasilla chiles and fennel. Cardoz worked from one simple principle: "If you give people something familiar to connect to, like salmon fillet or roast chicken, they're much more likely to take a risk on a new flavor," he says.
As Cardoz prepared for this month's opening of North End Grill, a reimagining of the American bar and grill with a focus on seafood, F&W put his philosophy to the test. We challenged him to create two takes on three classic American roastsprime rib, salmon and chickenwith one version calling for Indian ingredients and the other Western ones.
The resulting recipes express exactly who Cardoz is: an Indian-born chef who is also the parent of two very American teenagers who want to eat iconic American holiday dishes. For his Western take on prime rib, for instance, he rubs the meat with rosemary, pepper and porcini powder, echoing the flavors in France's classic steak au poivre. His second prime-rib recipe uses coriander and tangy horseradish raita in a clever take on traditional Indian grilled meats.
Cardoz is remarkably attuned to the needs of the home cook. Even his most exotic recipes call for only a handful of ingredients. Plus, the slow-roasting technique he prefers is forgiving to both the cook and the dish. "Part of the reason I conceived of the slow-roasted salmon was to elevate a common ingredient into something more luxuriousyou can't always get the best wild salmon, but slow cooking adds silkiness and richness."
The slow method also offers a cushion for human error, even though it's not foolproof. "The first time I made the porcini prime rib, I left it in the oven and went to Christmas Eve Mass," Cardoz says. "The pilot light never went onso I had to cut this beautiful piece of meat into three pieces to get it cooked in time."
Floyd Cardoz's Salmon Roasting Tips
1. Cook salmon at a low temperature (300°) to prevent it from drying out. This also mellows the flavor.
2. For a large fillet with a thinner tail end, fold the tail end under to make the fish an even thickness. This will help it cook evenly.
3. To cook the fish faster, slice it lengthwise right down the middle before putting it in the oven.
Floyd Cardoz's Chicken Roasting Tips
1. Don't let pan juices go to waste. Add cubes of bread to the roasting pan once the chicken is finished, then toss with melted butter and bake them until crispy. Serve with the chicken.
2. Use a small, clean garbage bag to brine chicken; this helps with refrigerator space. Remove as much excess air as possible and tie the bag securely to prevent leaking.
3. Save the chicken necks in the freezer and use them to make stock.
Floyd Cardoz's Beef Roast Tips
1. To save stovetop space, sear meat (fat side down) in a preheated roasting pan in the oven.
2. Grind spices right before using to ensure the most flavor and aroma. All spices contain oils that begin to lose their potency as soon as they're ground.
3. Cut only the meat you'll need, so the next day you can have fresh roast beef for sandwiches.
Floyd Cardoz’s Holiday Party Wine Tips
Unexpected Whites & Reds
The most versatile party wines don't have to be the most obvious choices, like Merlot and Sauvignon Blanc. For a medium-bodied wine that goes well with a range of flavors, try a vibrant Greek white (like Moscofilero or Assyrtiko) or a Sangiovese, like a Chianti Classico.